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Lecture at 7:30 p.m. and Reception with hors d’oeuvres & desserts at 6:30 p.m.
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Plants for Dry Sites

Christina Hoyt

In a year of ample moisture it’s easy to forget Nebraska’s tendency towards drought. Choosing plants that can withstand dry conditions saves water and makes the landscape more resilient to dry times. And most landscapes have a place where it is dry no matter how much moisture we get, whether it’s under a big tree or in a “hell strip” surrounded by concrete. There are several common dry situations that are difficult no matter what is planted in them:

  • Dryer vents blow excessively hot air on plants, scorching the leaves and drying out both plants and soil. If you are trying to screen the vent with plants, extend the bed out as far as possible or consider screening with non-plant material.  
  • Dense canopies/shallow roots: Maples, spruces or other trees with dense shade and/or shallow root systems are difficult to plant under. Consider mulching to the drip line and planting herbaceous or woody plants farther out from the dripline.
  • “Hell strips” surrounded by pavement: These areas get both direct and reflected heat and frequently have poor drainage. In winter, de-icing chemicals and snow loads can also be a problem. Raising the soil grade slightly and adding organic matter can help with drainage and it’s best to choose plants that can tolerate salt.

Grasses and Perennials

Blonde Ambition blue grama is an improved cultivar of native blue grama with showy seedheads standing almost 2 feet high, a foot and a half taller than the straight species. This plant wants dry, well-drained soil.
Little bluestem. People often shy away from this great Nebraska native because it can flop in the landscape but usually the reason it flops is that it receives too much moisture, either from purposeful watering or overspray of turf irrigation. Plant it high and dry and it will stand 3-4 feet high and provide beautiful fall color and texture.

Dotted gayfeather is the most drought-tolerant of the gayfeathers, with roots extending deep in the soil. In late summer the stiff flowering spikes are 2 feet high and covered with feathery clusters of purplish-pink flowers. Each plant has a corm that can live for decades and give rise to dozens of flower stalks each year. This is a tough plant that thrives in summer heat.
Dwarf leadplant is a great low-growing species of leadplant with gray foliage and magenta purple blooms. It’s slow to get established but extremely long-lived once it is.
Catmint. Yes, yes. This plant is everywhere along curbside plantings and there is a reason! It loves it dry and is stunning in the spring. Cut it back to get more blooms in the fall.
Plumbago produces a dense growth of glossy green foliage, making it a fine groundcover for sunny areas or in afternoon shad

e. The intense, gentian blue flowers start appearing in late July and last into fall when the foliage turns a bronzy red, contrasting nicely with the flowers.
Sedges. There are several sedges that prefer dry conditions. In sunny areas, try brevior sedge which has great form and glossy foliage. In shade, try oak sedge with a beautiful fountain form and glossy foliage.


Pawnee Buttes sandcherry (photo on right) is a low-growing cultivar of sandcherry with beautiful glossy, grey-green foliag

e and a spreading habit. It is not very long-lived but can handle heat and drought better than most shrubs.
Mohican viburnum is a common cultivar of lantana viburnum growing 7-9 feet high and wide that’s quite drought-tolerant and has thick, leathery leaves.
Chokeberry cultivars vary in size. They have glossy, dark green foliage turning orange to red in fall and healthy, edible aroniaberries. It’s very adaptable, handling sun to shade and moist to dry conditions.

Snowberry grows 4-5 feet high and wide in sun to part shade. It has an arching habit and small leaves. Its best season is fall, when it’s loaded with white berries, or try the cultivar Amethyst with berries blushed in pink.